With the Roman Catholic Church facing a series of paedophilia scandals, some observers have begun to ask whether the tradition of celibacy in the priesthood has contributed to child abuse. The BBC’s Paul Henley raises the question with Catholics in Cologne.
In Pope Benedict XVI’s home country, Germany, the Catholic Church could have hoped for a better Easter in terms of public relations.
While the media deal, nearly daily, with fresh allegations of priests sexually abusing children, opinion polls published by Stern magazine suggest almost a fifth of German Catholics have considered leaving the Church because of the abuse scandal and only 17% of Germans now trust the Church as an institution.
Typical of the kind of comment Catholic leaders would have preferred not to have faced,was a contribution to a recent ZDF television discussion programme by Professor Klaus Beier, head of the Institute of Sexology and Sexual Medicine at Berlin’s Charite Hospital.
“If you are already struggling with a conflicted sexuality, including paedophile tendencies, then it is attractive to become part of an institution that obliges you to be celibate,” he said.
“I have seen many of these cases… and it is something the Catholic Church should be made aware of.”
More surprising has been the contribution to the debate of senior figures from inside the Church, including Hamburg Auxiliary Bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschke, who seemed to add fuel to the fire of those making a connection between priestly celibacy and paedophilia.
The offenders always say ‘we are not the guilty ones; society is guilty, the church is guilty, celibacy is the problem, not us'”
He was quoted as saying that the “celibate lifestyle can attract people who have an abnormal sexuality and cannot integrate sexuality into their lives.”
But even those outspoken Catholic rebels who have long called for a discussion about the future of celibacy – including Father Hans Kung, a contemporary of the Pope and well-known thorn in the side of the Vatican – have distanced themselves from any attempt to link paedophile offences and priestly vows of chastity.
Now another theologian, Manfred Luetz, psychiatrist, author and organiser of a 2003 Vatican congress about the abuse of children, has been defending the Church’s stance, resisting any link between celibacy and paedophilia.
“I do not think that the Vatican is trying to prevent any debate about celibacy,” he said, speaking in his office at Cologne’s Alexianer Hospital, where he is director.
“Catholics are free to talk about it. Celibacy is no dogma. But I think when we have a discussion about abuse, then this is not the moment to discuss celibacy, because then we make the same strategies as the offenders do.
“The offenders always say ‘we are not the guilty ones; society is guilty, the church is guilty, celibacy is the problem, not us’. And I do not want to be an accomplice to such escape strategies”.
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